The Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame is privileged to possess a photographic copy of the entire manuscript collection of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan. The plan to reproduce the holdings of the Ambrosiana was conceived in 1960, when Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, archbishop of Milan (the future Pope Paul VI), came to the University to receive an honorary degree from then President of the University Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh. Former Director of the Medieval Institute and Doctor of the Ambrosiana Astrik L. Gabriel became coordinator of the project whereby the Institute acquired positive and negative microfilms of all 12,000 Ambrosiana manuscripts; photographs and negatives of 10,000 drawings and 30,000 manuscript illuminations; and 8,000 color slides of drawings and illuminations. These materials, known collectively as the Ambrosiana Archive, comprise the Frank M. Folsom Ambrosiana Microfilm Collection and the Mary M. Davis Collection of Ambrosiana Drawings.
The Mary M. Davis Collection consists of some 10,000 photographs and slides acquired through funding from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, of which Mary Davis was executive vice-president for many years. In 1981, the late Franklin Murphy, Chairman of the Board of the Kress Foundation, proposed that these drawings be catalogued. Dr. Ralph McInerny, former Director of the Medieval Institute, discussed the project with Dr. Marilyn Perry, now president of the Kress Foundation, and preliminary plans were made. In 1982, art historian Robert R. Coleman began to prepare a computerized cataloguing system with the help of Dr. Louis Jordan, Curator of the Ambrosiana Archive. At an early stage of the project, Dr. Angelo Paredi, former Prefect of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, suggested that a selection of Ambrosiana drawings be sent to Notre Dame for exhibition. That suggestion provided the germ of the idea for the 1984-85 traveling exhibition, Renaissance Drawings from the Ambrosiana. Continuing support for the cataloguing project is provided by the Kress Foundation and its officers, President Marilyn Perry and Vice President Lisa Ackerman; the L. J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation; and the University of Notre Dame College of Arts and Letters, Department of Art, Art History and Design, The Medieval Institute and its director, Dr. Thomas F. X. Noble. At the Ambrosiana, the project is coordinated by Monsignor Cesare Pasini.